ORONO, Maine — A University of Maine graduate student studying anthropology at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, fled the North African country Sunday night to escape unrest that has left approximately 100 people dead over the last week.
Two other UMaine students followed in her footsteps, university staff said on Monday.
Andrea Groves, 26, of Topsham said through Skype on Monday that she left before things got worse.
“It’s not fear for my life so much, but it’s the fear of what could happen in the future,” she said, her Internet connection breaking up at points. “It’s the fear that it could just get worse and I would fear for my life and I would regret not going.”
Groves fled to nearby Jordan.
Two other UMaine students studying abroad at the American University in Cairo, whose names were not released by the university, have left or soon will leave, Karen Boucias, director of UMaine’s Office of International Programs, said Monday afternoon.
U.S. Embassy officials were telling Americans to consider leaving Egypt as the seventh day of protests began against leadership of the country. Protesters were calling for President Hosni Mubarak, who has led the country for nearly three decades, to resign.
Much of the turmoil is happening in Midan Tahrir, or Liberation Square, a pedestrian-only area of Cairo where thousands of protesters have camped out since Friday, defying a government curfew.
Groves has lived in Egypt for the last 1½ years and had returned to Maine in December for a monthlong visit. The country’s protests already were under way as she prepared to leave the state.
“My brother didn’t want me to come here,” she said. “I had to fight with him to let me out of the house.”
In the time Groves has lived in Egypt, there have been several small protests, but none as serious as the weeklong one happening now, she said. She arrived in Cairo at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25.
“I didn’t actually realize the severity of it because I had been traveling for 20 hours straight,” she said.
Groves lives three blocks from the Ministry of Interior of Egypt. Roads around her home were blocked when she arrived, and she had to persuade police to allow her through, she said.
On Wednesday, she said, things seemed normal in her area with people going to work and shops opening, but that night “the protesters and the police, right outside my building, confronted each other. There was tear gas going off. There were rubber bullets being shot.”
Protesters raided the nearby McDonald’s and Pizza Hut and were using materials from the restaurants to defend themselves, she said.
“Then they cut off the Internet and text messages on Thursday evening, and I realized the Egyptian government was trying to be serious,” Groves said. “Friday it was just chaos.”
Even with bullets flying, the well-traveled graduate student said she did not fear for her life.
“As long as I was with a friend on the street during the day or in my building, I never felt that I was going to be killed,” Groves said. “Despite the fact that I lived in an area where you could hear police shooting AK-47s [assault rifles] all the time. It never felt unsafe, but it has been chaotic.”
The media “has almost exaggerated the danger against foreigners there,” she added later. “Foreigners are in danger but not to the extreme. They are not being outed by protesters. They are not being attacked by people. They actually like you.”
Groves said she left Egypt on a plane bound for Jordan on Sunday night thanks to her Jordanian boyfriend’s family, who arranged the seating.
“I chose to leave because I had the opportunity to,” she said. “I had a guaranteed seat on a plane.”
In addition to safety issues, the other reason she left was because food and other resources were becoming scarce, Groves said.
“It’s the responsible thing to do because there are tons of Egyptians who are too poor who don’t have a choice,” she said. “They cannot leave, and it’s best to leave those resources for them.”
She is staying with her mother, Elizabeth Karasopoulos, who lives in Amman, Jordan, and is a teacher at the American Community School.
The two other UMaine students who are studying at the American University in Cairo should be out of the country by the time Maine readers pick up their papers Tuesday morning, Boucias said.
“Both our students are on flights today [Monday] leaving Egypt and going through Istanbul,” she said.
“One has left the country and is on her way to Istanbul,” Boucias said in an e-mail at around 2:30 p.m. Monday. “The other we are waiting to see when he gets on a plane.”
The UMaine students are boarding U.S. Department of State airplanes “standing by for all Americans who want to leave,” she said.
The American University in Cairo, which once was located downtown, was moved to the outskirts of the city years ago, which has provided a level of protection for its students, Boucias said.
“The semester was supposed to start today, but classes were postponed,” she said.
The UMaine students who are fleeing the fighting are not returning to Maine, Boucias said.
“Both students have expressed interest in changing their study abroad location, and it looks like we will be able to place them,” she said. “This means they are not returning to Bangor.”
Where the students will be transferred to was not known Monday afternoon, Boucias said.
Groves said the protests are just a way for Egyptians to put a spotlight on the issue of their country’s leadership, adding it’s a time to feel “hopeful for them, for Egyptians.”
“I’m extremely proud of Egyptians right now [even] though it’s chaotic,” she said.